Significance of public engagement in climate change networking

Guest column: Peter Makwanya

The climate change phenomenon is firmly in the public domain and it is no longer a secret, but remains a problem which the people are failing to deal with decisively. The climate change discourse is inherent in books, magazines, newspapers, broadcasting, websites, briefs, blogs, film, theatre, drama, interactive platforms and many other media sites. In order to comprehensively tame this phenomenon, that is threatening to tear the world apart, reaching out to one another, through sufficient and exhaustive public engagements would bring the desired solutions. Public engagement on climate change issues educates, empowers and influences behavioural modifications, because it is from the human behavioural tendencies that the world is in this state of affairs.

There are many carbon sinners out there, be they individuals, companies, organisations or institutions, who are participating in the production of carbon footprints, hence their behaviours need to change. One of the most important tools of public engagement on climate change issues is communication.

Communication is important in getting the message across, delivering milestones through education, awareness, persuasion, engaging and through interactive platforms as well as taming problematic discourses, so that they are reachable and user friendly.

Communication is a vital pillar and life-line for permeating through disciplinary variations in order to inform, conscientise and regulate social inconsistences. Whenever there is a climate change problem, experts can harness the power of communication for climate literacy and problem-solving, to target situations, audiences and stakeholders.

Climate change is a risk community of practice, where self-interests, world-views and ideological standpoints still cloud human thinking, actions and perceptions. As such, public engagement on climate change issues requires risk communication practices which are context-specific and people-centred, sufficient and appropriate enough to deliver change of human behaviour, leading to proper mitigation and adaptation to climate change impacts. The discourses “mitigation” and “adaptation” are not as simple as they appear to sound, they have proved to be the most problematic and challenging in the climate change scenarios. Many countries, even with funding available, have failed to adapt convincingly due to the inability to engage the public.

As for the term “mitigation”, this has suffered still-birth so many times because governments and their stakeholders often don’t know what to do about it or many people don’t know what it simply requires them to do. Although many people would want to use adaptation and mitigation interchangeably, the two terms are not the same, they mean different things although they also stand to influence each other.

While adaptation can be viewed as the process which societies increase their ability to cope with an uncertain future, which involves taking appropriate action and making the adjustments and changes to reduce the negative impacts of climate change (UNFCCC, 2007), mitigation is viewed as actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions which lead to climate change. In this regard, public engagement influences adaptation strategies aimed at altering human behaviour, systems and lifestyles in order to reduce the impacts of climate change.

The levels at which target audiences are able to articulate climate change issues are also critical in this respect. These levels would also determine the nature of language to be used, including the channels and strategies, in attempts to sufficiently engage and influence people to take appropriate climate actions for desired solutions.

In order to manage anti-environmental human behaviours and practices, engaging people and dialoguing are critical. For people to be able to act or think on climate change impacts, they must be knowledgeable to do so. This appeals to a comprehensive framework of societal engagement to save forests, wildlife, lands from degradation, rivers and other water bodies from siltation, avoid deforestation, pollution (land, water and air) in order to inculcate pro-environmental behaviours. If we are to look at emission scales, it’s the companies and industries which exhibit large footprints.

These institutions are already in the know, they don’t require much education but ongoing awareness strategies and information campaigns in line with national policy frameworks, environmental governance statutes as well as other compliant mechanisms. This is important to enable them to continue checking on their carbon footprints and report sustainably.

Public engagements on climate change also include debating around the climate change risk factors, impacts and solutions. Collective climate action, strategies and networking are necessary in moving the adaptation discourse forward, for problem solving, achieving desired solutions and nurture climate growth and resilience.

Government, policymakers, non-governmental organisations, industries and commerce, socio-cultural institutions and climate change experts on the ground need to collaborate. Above all, they need to demonstrate human-centred approaches. One of which is to streamline specific gender roles, reduce inequalities, manage stereotypes, use of gender lenses and deconstruct gender-power relations.

It is the duty of climate change experts to design information materials that are reachable and user-friendly by the targeted situations.

Communicating climate change to the public should be versatile and compelling, with the use of multi-media and multi-modal frameworks in attempts to sufficiently engage. These are directed to specific groups and discourse communities for relevant consumption. These strategies are used in order to establish deeper knowledge and understanding among the targeted audiences, for meaning creation. Failure to sufficiently engage the public also result in the failure of adaptation programmes leading to failure to sustainable development goals (SDGs), resulting in some people being left behind.

Pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours take time to find resonance in the people concerned, hence public and continuous engagements become the way to go. This is important for filling procedural, structural, heritage and institutional gaps used to militate against climate action strategies.

In this regard, relevant authorities need to try and harness the power of information-based approaches since they appeal, in holistic ways, to all the human senses involved in interacting with the environment and when pushing the climate change adaptation agenda, especially.

These public engagements, despite being designed to appeal to a wide cross section of the people, agro-ecological relevance and biodiversity utilisation, they are aimed at improving the people’s livelihood best practices such as health, food security, less carbon emissions, improved agricultural production, redefining gender roles and inclusion, transforming world-views and heritages, ideologies and stand-points.

Above all, the target audiences should be able to link and relate what is happening in their communities to the advent of climate change, in order to modify and transform their behaviours and mind-sets. It is also important that these people are able to understand why it is necessary to change their ways of doing or knowing.

Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on: petrovmoyt@gmail.com

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